Backlog Refinement: An activity to improve Product Backlog items and Achieving Common Understanding of what to work on next
In this article, we will delve into the significance of Backlog Refinement, explore what occurs during this activity, and understand its ongoing nature within the Sprint. By uncovering the purpose and process of Backlog Refinement, teams can enhance their understanding, collaboration, and ultimately, better products in an effective manner.
The activity Backlog Refinement was referred to as “Backlog Grooming”. There are a few reasons behind this change. One reason is the negative connotation associated with the word "grooming" in cases of abuse. Typically, grooming refers to pruning plants or combing pets. The word "refinement" seems to be a better fit when considering what the Scrum does with the product backlog during this activity.
What happens during the Backlog Refinement activity?
Product Backlog Refinement is an ongoing activity that takes place during the Sprint. It can also occur during Sprint Planning to increase the team's understanding of items and boost their confidence in completing the selected items for the Sprint.
The Scrum Guide defines it as an activity (as opposed to a time-boxed event) that occurs as needed. For a team that is just starting out, it is advisable to set up an event, such as two 30-minute sessions, for Backlog Refinement. During these events, the Scrum Team comes together to review the next set of Product Backlog items likely to be picked up in the next Sprint. During this review, the Scrum Team identifies tasks that need to be completed in the upcoming days to refine those Product Backlog items. These tasks may or may not require the presence of every team member. Based on the need, the Scrum Team self-organizes to finish those tasks, ensuring that the Product Backlog items are better understood and broken down into smaller units before the beginning of the next Sprint.
It is important to note that the suggested duration of 30-minute events for Backlog Refinement is not set in stone, and as the team matures, they may find alternative ways to conduct this activity that better suit their needs. Additionally, it is not solely the responsibility of the Product Owner to perform Backlog Refinement. Product Owners without the input and insights of the developers typically lack the necessary skills to refine Product Backlog items.
One of the "rules" I suggest to new Scrum Teams is that "During Sprint Planning, it is not a good idea to consider any Product Backlog items that the developers haven't seen before." This suggests that the Scrum Team should have a common understanding of the Product Backlog items before considering them for a Sprint during the Sprint Planning meeting.
The Importance of Backlog Refinement for Scrum Team Effectiveness
Backlog Refinement is crucial for the effectiveness of the Scrum team. Without continual refinement of the Product Backlog, the team may encounter several issues. Large and vague Product Backlog items, as well as a lack of common understanding among team members, can lead to longer Sprint Planning meetings or even worse, situations where high-priority items cannot be selected for the current sprint due to unrecognized impediments.
By conducting Backlog refinement activities, these problems can be identified earlier, allowing the Scrum Team to address and remove impediments before the Sprint Planning meeting. This proactive approach improves the overall efficiency of the team and ensures that valuable items are not delayed or missed.
The Role of the ScrumMaster in Backlog Refinement
The ScrumMaster plays a crucial role in facilitating Backlog Refinement and ensuring the effectiveness of the Scrum Team. According to the Scrum Guide, the ScrumMaster is accountable for the team's effectiveness, making their involvement in this activity essential.
As a ScrumMaster, there are several ways to support the team in Backlog Refinement:
Reference in Scrum Guide(1)
Sprint section: “During the Sprint, The Product Backlog is refined as needed.”
Product Backlog Section: “Product Backlog items that can be Done by the Scrum Team within one Sprint are deemed ready for selection in a Sprint Planning event. They usually acquire this degree of transparency after refining activities. Product Backlog refinement is the act of breaking down and further defining Product Backlog items into smaller more precise items. This is an ongoing activity to add details, such as a description, order, and size. Attributes often vary with the domain of work.”
Sprint Planning section: Part Two – what can be done in a sprint: “The Scrum Team may refine these items during this process, which increases understanding and confidence.”
1)The 2020 Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland
1) What Is Product Backlog Refinement? Add detail (and more) to backlog items
by Joel Bancroft-Connors
2) The Keys to Effective Product Backlog Refinement 5 Practical Tips to Keep Your Team Moving by Joel Bancroft-Connors